What, if not certificate distribution centers? Yes, I find it not unjust to label most of the Nepalese schools and colleges mere certificate distribution centres. This, in fact, happens when educational institutions aim at nothing but upgrading students with high scores; teachers teach students but only to enable them to get through the exams; students get admitted but solely to obtain certificates which they can cash later in the job market. This way, we are not preparing students to live for life, which cannot be called an education.
There should be no doubt that the Nepalese education system overemphasises examinations and underemphasises learning. Perhaps we have considered exams and education to be synonymous. This is why, exams start the moment students start their schooling. They often ask their teachers: "When shall we finish the course? The exam is approaching." They ask their teachers to make a guess at the VVI (Very Very Important) questions for the exam. Many of them start to get ready for the exams with guess papers and guidebooks. Recently, I heard a confidential discourse between teachers. They were discussing how to prepare guess papers that are easy for the students to handle in the exam halls.
Let me share a fresh incident with you. A week ago, I happened to go to a shop to photocopy my appointment letter so that I could lodge a complaint that I have been transferred to a place I did not want to go. There, I found one of my students who was pleading to the man at the shop to shorten the size. I thought it was his citizenship paper. To my utter surprise, he was asking the man to condense the size of the guess paper as its actual size had been difficult for him to handle in the previous exam.
This reminded me of the previous period of the exam. Every evening, I would find hundreds of students gathered at the shop. I used to be puzzled. Now I understand why they were there. The man must have been very skilled at condensing the texts. He perhaps did not have the slightest idea that he was condensing not only the size of the guess paper but also the knowledge of the students.
The million dollar question is, what is important: education (learning) or exams? Without doubt, for us it has been exams because we aim at acquiring certificates and nothing else. This is why, it is only the exam that has happened here, not education. After all, why should it happen? Jobs are given if you have a certificate. There are evidences to show that exams are held mostly to meet the periodic ritual. They are held to help the distribution of certificates.
Again there is that question of a good exam and bad exam. The more democratic the exams, the better they are because the more satisfied the students and their guardians are. No section of the academia has enjoyed the newly dawned loktantra more than the exams of Nepal.
No exams have been untouched by the fruit of democracy in this most democratic era of Nepal. Everyone laughed and lambasted that it was a mockery when a teacher said, "Let us pass a proposal to open educational institutes for three days – the first day for admission, the second day for filling up the forms and the third day for distributing certificates as per the score wish of the candidates."
I wish I were the education minister of this country. Democratic exams require no teaching and no learning. They require some skills, though: how to make most of the cheats in the exams, how to put ashes into the eyes of the invigilators who are the union leaders that can help you in using unfair means. If education merely aims at providing certificates - a piece of paper - why invest so much of efforts, funds, resources and time into it?
Despite the criticisms against the exams, they survive and are bound to exist in our education system in the foreseeable future. Then, what are the challenges and what could be their feasible solutions? There are chains of exam-related issues in the Nepalese academia awaiting to be tackled with insight and expertise.
For instance, most of tests made in Nepal for different levels demand nothing but mere rote learning and reproduction. Students either commit to memory the contents or carry guess papers in the exams. There is little room for students’ creativity and critical abilities in both test writing and marking.
Test givers hardly receive any orientation on what is to be tested and how they should be tested. Likewise, examiners never receive any training on how to mark the papers. Let us not talk about the slack marking. Exam results are hardly analyzed. Without a doubt, these evil testing practices do have harmful effects on education and ultimately on the society.
Who is responsible for all the mess - Tom, Dick or Harry?